So how would Herod respond to the events of Matthew 2?
He responded strategically.
When news reached him, he summoned the chief priests and the scribes, the experts in the law and scripture. The chief priests were the religious aristocracy and tried to find out from all these theological scholars where the Anointed One of God would be born. Those people put their heads together and quoted some prophecy from the book of Micah that led to the small town of Bethlehem. With a location, Herod put a devious plan into motion. His first option would be to learn the exact location of the child, then do away with him as he had done away with so many others. But in case that didn’t work, he formulated a backup plan. With a location, he needed a time table from the magi, which he got. Armed with those 2 pieces of information, he would be able to use a shotgun approach for disposing of the threat. He would order that all of the male children born from the time the star appeared until now in that region of the country be put to death. Many would have to die, but he would surely get the one death he really cared about.
You can say what you will about Herod – that he was selfish, greedy, power hungry and cruel – but you have to give him this: Herod was committed to his vision. He would have fit right in with our self-help, goal-oriented societies. We are urged to have vision and direction for our lives, charting our course early, networking and making contacts, in order to reach the goals we have appointed for ourselves. Herod was a master at this. He knew exactly who he wanted to be and exactly what he wanted to accomplish in his career, life and family, and he was committed to that vision. He was so committed in fact that he was willing to go to great lengths to make sure that absolutely nothing swayed or interfered with his vision for his life. And in this little baby, this son of a nobody born in a nothing town in a meaningless area, he saw a threat to that vision. And he was right.
Christmas means many things to many people, but often we do not consider the threatening nature of the coming of Christ. Jesus is the prince of peace, the lily of the valley and the bright and morning star, but he is also an incredibly dangerous threat. In our compartmentalized religious culture we do not often see him as that. What I mean to say is that we live in an area and at a time where the things of God are so prolific, so easily ascertained, so numerous that we can easily fall into a state of religious bookending. Christianity in that respect is something that just bookends our weeks. We make decisions, chart life courses, choose majors and careers, and also we worship. And also we go to Bible study. And also we pray. But that is not the message of Christ.
Christ did not envelop himself with skin and walk this earth to be part of our lives; he came to be our lives. He came to indwell us in such a way that our entire world view is re-centered on him. He came to infiltrate the smallest corners of who we are so that He is actually living His life through us. In order for that to happen, we have to give up our lives to Him in every way possible and imaginable. When we refuse him that right and relegate him to secondary importance in our day to day living, we follow in the example of King Herod. Herod saw that this was no mere baby; he was no mere symbol; he was no mere bookend for the real parts of life; he was, and remains, a threat. He is an extremely dangerous threat to anyone who wants to tell their own story.
Herod was committed to telling his story and would not be swayed. Herod may have been cruel and vengeful, he may have been suspicious and merciless, but at least he knew what he wanted out of life, and this baby threatened that vision. At least he was committed. At least he had vision. At least he understood, at least in part, the implications of the birth of this King…
To be continued…